Watts electrifies ISO audience

Pianist Andre Watts

No matter what he plays, André Watts draws in the patrons

like a magnet. Nor did it hurt that he chose that mighty monolith of a piano

concerto, Brahms' No. 2 in

B-flat, Op. 83, to open the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra's ninth classical

program. ISO music director Krzysztof Urbański was on the podium, also to

follow the Brahms with Dvořák's Symphony No. 7 in D Minor, Op. 70, making for two big

concert warhorses to attract a nearly packed house.

As Brahms reportedly told his dear friend Clara Schumann, he

had written "a tiny concerto with a tiny wisp of a scherzo." The statement

couldn't have been more ironic as his B-flat Concerto runs 50 minutes, has four

movements instead of the usual three, and is surely

the longest of that genre in the standard repertoire. It is also possibly the

most magnificent, given its size and wealth of melodic invention within a

masterfully crafted tapestry.

Now 67, Watts has been a top-tier

pianist all his life and continues to show his special abilities as a keyboard

giant. From Brahms' opening (Star Wars-like)

theme through three movements to the jaunty, Hungarian-like finale, Watts

and the orchestra played as a unified ensemble, equally strong in their musical

content. Hovering over his keyboard, Watts produced an exquisite control of

dynamics and an exquisitely sounding filigree of passage work, chords, trills

and scale-work, though he may have leaned a little more heavily than usual on

the damper pedal for the latter. Still, his mastery at virtuosic playing

remains intact.

A surprise entry into this Brahms was cellist See-Do Park, who is

auditioning for the long vacated ISO principal cellist position (to replace

Arkady Orlovsky, who left several years ago). She dominated in the concerto's third

movement with its beautifully extended cello solo. Her playing was such that

she'd be an excellent addition to the ISO's principal player roster. During the

extended applause afterward, Watts acknowledged her by

walking over to her and clasping her hand at two different times. As it was,

the audience clamored for Watts to provide an encore

which, in this case, it didn't get.

Dvořák's nine symphonies are dominated by his last

three, the Ninth being, of course, the famed "New World"

Symphony, written in New York.

The Seventh is carving out a strong repertoire niche of its own, however.

Filled with dramatic Bohemian ardor, it nonetheless carries a strongly

Brahmsian element in its harmonic structure, and was a fitting companion piece

to fill out the program.

Urbański had his orchestra playing with largely excellent

precision throughout the four movements. He wove his way through the Scherzo,

giving it a seamless lilt. The Finale is a daunting movement for a conductor,

with a plethora of rhythm changes, syncopations, off-the-beat accents. We heard

very few misses in this complex-but-masterful structure, suddenly switching to

D major at the ending cadence after being dominated by D minor within the

movement. Feb. 20 - 22; Hilbert Circle Theatre


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